Pope: We are sinners, but Jesus with his death has made us 'just' and 'holy'
At the general audience, Francis said: "What is hidden behind the word 'justification', which is so decisive for faith? It is not easy to arrive at an exhaustive definition, but in the whole of St Paul's thought it can be said simply that justification is the consequence of 'the mercy of God who offers forgiveness' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1990). This is our God, who is good and continually forgives".
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - We are sinners, but "holy" in that Jesus Christ has "justified" us. This means that "we have our sins, but before God we are just". The theme of justification - an issue that historically divides Jews and Christians and, among them, Catholics and Protestants - was addressed today by Pope Francis in the light of the Letter to the Galatians, to which he is dedicating his catechesis for the general audience.
In our journey to better understand the teaching of St Paul," he told the 8,000 people present in the Paul VI Hall, "oday we will encounter a difficult but important topic: justification. What is justification? We, who were sinners, have become just. Who justified us? This process of change is justification. We, before God, are just. It is true, we have our personal sins. But fundamentally, we are just. This is justification. There has been a lot of discussion on this topic, to find the interpretation that best corresponds to the Apostle’s thought and, as often happens, these discussions even ended up in contradicting positions. In the Letter to the Galatians, just as in the Letter to the Romans, Paul insists on the fact that justification comes through faith in Christ".
"What is hidden behind the word “justification” that is so decisive for the faith? It is not easy to arrive at an exhaustive definition, but taking Paul’s thought as a whole, it can be simply said that justification is the consequence of “God’s merciful initiative of offering forgiveness” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1990). And this is our God, so very good, merciful, patient, full of mercy, who continually grants pardon, continually."
"The justification wrought by God," he reiterated, "therefore, allows us to recuperate the innocence lost through sin. How does justification happen?", "we are holy, at the base". " But, Father, I am just because I keep all the commandments!” Yes, but justification does not come from that. Someone justified you, someone made you just before God. “Yes, but I am a sinner!” Yes, you justified, but a sinner. But fundamentally, you are just. Who justified you? Jesus Christ. This is justification." "For God, through the death of Jesus, has destroyed sin and given us forgiveness and salvation in a definitive way. Thus justified, sinners are welcomed by God and reconciled with him. It is like a return to the original relationship between the Creator and the creature, before the disobedience of sin intervened".
Before meeting Jesus, " Paul had been a proud, religious and zealous man, convinced that justification consisted in the scrupulous observance of the precepts of the law. Now, however, he has been conquered by Christ, and faith in Him has completely transformed him, allowing him to discover a truth that had been hidden: we do not become just through our own effort, no, it is not us, but it is Christ, with his grace, who makes us just."
" Justification through faith underlines the priority of the grace that God offers without distinction to those who believe in his Son.
We must not, however, conclude that the Mosaic Law, for Paul, had lost its value; rather, it remains an irrevocable gift from God. It is, the Apostle writes, “holy” (Rm 7:12). Even for our spiritual life, observing the commandments is essential – we have already said this many times. But even here, we cannot count on our efforts: the grace of God that we receive in Christ is fundamental. That grace that comes from being the justification given us by Christ who already paid for us. From Him, we receive that gratuitous love that allows us, in our turn, to love in concrete ways."
"In this context, it is also good to recall the teaching that comes from the Apostle James, who writes: 'Man is justified by works and not by faith alone. [... For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead" (Jas 2:24, 26). Justification, if it does not flourish with our works, is dead. Thus the words of James complement the teaching of Paul. For both, therefore, the response of faith requires us to be active in love of God and love of neighbour. Justification inserts us in the long history of salvation, which shows the justice of God: faced with our continual falls and inadequacies, he did not resign himself, but wanted to make us righteous and did so by grace, through the gift of Jesus Christ, of his death and resurrection. God's style is closeness, compassion and tenderness".
" Only through grace: we are justified because of pure grace. “But I can’t I, can’t a person, go to the judge and pay so that he can justify me?” No. You cannot pay for this. Someone paid for all of us: Christ. And from Christ, who died for us, comes that grace that the Father gives to everyone: Justification comes through grace."
"Thus, the light of faith allows us to recognize how infinite God’s mercy is, his grace that works for our good. But that same light also makes us see the responsibility that has been entrusted to us to collaborate with God in his work of salvation. The power of grace needs to be coupled with our works of mercy which we are called to live to bear witness to how tremendous is God’s love. Let us move ahead with this trust: we have all been justified; we are just in Christ. We must effect that justice with our works."
Addressing the French faithful, the Pope said: "On this day when we celebrate the feast of the Holy Archangels, I ask St Michael, protector of France, to watch over your nation, to protect it in fidelity to its roots, and to lead your people along the paths of ever greater unity and solidarity".